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“Partially Meeting Expectations”: is this what’s expected from a River Forest public education?

Curriculum changes connected to River Forest’s Vision For Equity initiative included a new approach to foundational English Language Arts. Translated, the district adopted an alternative approach to teaching children to read.

The new approach is called Balanced Literacy and the district’s new curriculum, authored by Lucy Calkins, uses cues and context for learning instead of building a foundation on phonemic awareness. Imagine relying on context and looking at pictures to try and learn new words instead of knowing how to sound them out or decode. District 90 is looking to fill the phonics hole in the Calkins curriculum after learning from teachers currently piloting two different phonics programs. One phonics program would be used in conjunction with the Lucy Calkins curriculum. This raises the question: are all phonics programs created equal?

The two phonics program teachers have been given to pilot are described by EdReports.org, an independent non-profit reviewing instructional materials, as partially meeting expectations for alignment to standards and research based practices for foundational skill instruction. No, phonics programs are not created equal, and parents of early readers can find the EdReports.org evaluation of phonics programs below. To date, neither phonics program has been the subject of sufficient evaluation that would lead to reporting by the What Works Clearinghouse, the National Center for Education Evaluation’s curriculum review website.


The Fountas & Pinnell Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study System


Wilson Language Training Foundations


The change in literacy curriculum comes despite a long history of River Forest District 90 outperforming the national average for 4th Grade reading proficiency by a factor of two. Historically, teachers were given greater freedom to implement phonics programs of their choosing in addition to the main literacy curriculum. Interested in learning more about what factors influence effectiveness of phonics instruction? Here is one resource from the International Literacy Association that succinctly explains both Key Characteristics of Effective Phonics Instruction and Common Causes of Phonics Instructional Failure.

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